Life Reboot: Young Rural Merchants with Disabilities Hustle to Support themselves on Pinduoduo
Two Unlucky Yet Strong Men
The life of Yang Tiancai, a wheelchair-bound young man in Pujiang County in China’s Sichuan Province, changed after his path crossed with then 26-year-old Wu Yun’s in 2015, who lost all his hearing in one ear and had to wear a hearing aid in the other.
Both Yang, now 26, and Wu, 31, had gone through a period of autism and closed themselves off. However, they both found refuge on the internet.
Unable to bear with bullying and discrimination at junior high school, Yang dropped out and indulged himself in online games, while Wu began working in the e-commerce industry as a supply chain manager to make a living.
Their fathers, both have been veteran fruit agents in Pujiang County, introduced them to each other online in 2015.
Under the guidance of Wu, Yang began to sell kiwifruit and other agricultural products on the e-commerce marketplace. His father bought supplies for him, and his mother packed and shipped the products. At the end of 2015, Yang started his own company with sales reaching 1 million yuan. The sales soon reached 3 million yuan in 2016.
“During the busiest time, I didn’t sleep for days and lose 13 kilograms in about a month,” Yang said when recalling the good old days.
At the same time, Wu’s supply chain business also flourished, reaching more than 4 million yuan in sales in 2017. However, he was frustrated by fluctuations and unpredictability in his business.
He started to think about opening his own shop so that he could better manage the orders.
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“Let’s Go Together”
At this point, after nearly a year of online chatting, Yang and Wu have met and become real-life friends. Faced with the common need for developing their business, they decided to merge their companies and moved into the Pujiang E-Commerce Incubator Park in early 2018. Also, in June that year, the two went to Chengdu to systematically learn e-commerce for three months and learned the importance of branding.
“We are both disabled. Wu takes care of my travel due to my moving problems. He has difficulty in hearing, so I’m in charge of transferring conversations to him,” Yang said. “I am his ears, he is my legs.”
The close relationship between them inspires them to create a brand for the disabled called “Let’s Go Together” and bring more people with disabilities into the workforce.
Shift Business to Pinduoduo
Yang and Wu are now owners of an online agricultural products vendor on Pinduoduo (PDD), the social commerce platform in China that is particularly popular among people in lower-tier cities and rural areas. Two boys want to help more people with disabilities to make money and livings by themselves.
They focused their work on PDD and started operating a store in October 2018. PDD has been expanding rapidly in rural China, reaching out to farmers to sell their agricultural produce to consumers directly, cutting out middlemen.
Their store saw explosive growth since inception, and by the end of December 2018, the sales reached more than 35 million yuan and won PDD’s 2018 Potential Merchant of the Year Award. In addition to Pujiang’s local agricultural products, such as kiwi and citrus, they also sell apples from Sichuan, Yunnan, Shanxi and Shaanxi, and have built warehouses in Henan, Shaanxi and Hunan provinces.
The two complement each other’s strengths. Wu, with experience in the supply chain, knows where to get the best quality goods, who to call for trucks, and how to organize skilled picking and packing workers. Meanwhile, Yang is good at online operations and is very familiar with PDD’s new group buying business model. Their sales reached 100 million yuan in 2019.
Training Program for Disabilities
In the “Let’s Go Together” team, Chen Guangxiang, who fell from the construction site and had his legs amputated, and Zhou Miao, who lost ability to walk due to a car accident, both work on customer service, answering all kinds of consumer questions, and making monthly salary of more than 3,000 yuan.
“I was in bed for 7 to 8 years,” said Zhou. “Now it’s different. I feel really good to be able to support myself.”
“I actually hope everyone in the team could start their own business, and we’ll launch a training program for people with disabilities to do that,” Yang said.
So far, they have trained more than 20 people with disabilities for free, and gave priority to selling agricultural products grown by people with disabilities.
Everyday, Wu helps take Yang’s 21-kilogram wheelchair out of his car trunk and helps him get into it. When in tough times, Yang likes to go for a spin with Wu, with the car windows opening to let the wind in. Sometimes, they would go into the mountains together and look into the depths of the universe with binoculars.
“Looking into the Milky Way with stars all over the sky, I feel that humans are humble, and my heart will be purer.” Yang said.